, Gloucester, MA

August 30, 2013

Editorial: Time to free I-4, C-2 site from DPA limits, too

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The news that Mayor Carolyn Kirk would back the request from Scott Memhard and his Cape Pond Ice company to be lifted out from under the state’s Designated Port Area development mandates — and the word that local lawmakers Bruce Tarr and Ann-Margaret Ferrante are already working on the legislation to carry out that request at the State House – are welcome signs that officials recognize the problem confronting Memhard and perhaps other waterfront property owners.

Now, we can only hope the City Council next week gives its endorsement to the Cape Pond Ice DPA relief being sought in those quarters by City Councilor and former four-term mayor Bruce Tobey, showing the state that indeed city and local state officials are united in their push to gain the kind of help Cape Pond needs.

But when the council takes up that measure, it should also support Tobey’s second push to have a second property lifted from the DPA’s handcuffs as well; that’s the city-owned I-4, C-2 property, which remains vacant more than three years after the city acquired it for $1.5 million, splitting the cost with the state’s Seaport Advisory Council, which holds sway over the DPA in the first place.

The move to seek DPA freedom for Memhard — and to do so through legislative action — should be a slam dunk with both arms of city government behind it, and with the support of Tarr and Ferrante in Boston.

Kirk is absolutely right in noting the exceptional case to be made for freeing up Memhard and Cape Pond Ice. Thanks to the government-induced and declared “economic disaster” within the fishing industry, Memhard is using roughly just a third of his space along Commercial Street, yet would be precluded by the DPA from converting any more than 50 percent of it to a non-water dependent use, such as a restaurant. And that’s a recipe for financial disaster.

Memhard’s attorney, Meredith Fine, also made a good point regarding Cape Pond’s special circumstances, noting that, if the DPA’s goal is to help preserve Gloucester’s fishing and working waterfront, then it certainly makes sense to “preserve the only independent ice house on the waterfront.”

Will every waterfront property owner now follow Memhard’s lead and seek DPA relief as well? Maybe, but it’s important that the city and state takes any such proposals on a case-by-case basis, and Fine’s comment gives Memhard’s case the special context it deserves.

One can also argue, however, that the city can make an equally strong case for lifting the I-4, C-2 property out from under the DPA’s shackles as well.

When the city first put out a request for proposals (RFP) for I-4, C-2 in 2011, it drew expressions of interest but not a single, formal proposal. And while there may have been a variety of reasons for that — the city’s first RFP, for example, offered bidders only the chance to lease the property, not buy it, and any applicants would have had to submit a $10,000 deposit — follow up surveys on the city’s part showed that the DPA’s development constructions was a significant factor in discouraging any actual bids.

That in itself may not support the DPA being lifted from some private properties. But the fact is, the I-4, C-2 site was acquired with taxpayer dollars, is essentially owned by city and state taxpayers, and the DPA regulations are, in that vein, costing the city and its residents significant tax revenue it should be allowed to capture.

Over the long haul, the city should again push for changes within the DPA’s rules — whether through wording changes that could at least open the door to using waterfront sites for recreational boating dockage, an important tourism and development need, or perhaps through lifting these hopelessly outdated constraints altogether.

But those needs can be addressed after the city’s current $400,000 federally-backed assessment and survey of its waterfront properties, and further discussion of what changes would be most effective.

As we’ve noted, Cape Pond Ice needs relief from the DPA now — and after three-plus years of continued inactivity, the same can be said for the I-4, C-2 site as well.

Let’s keep Cape Pond Ice’s request on the legislative fast track, but let’s also get an I-4, C-2 DPA pullout on the rails as well.